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2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix April 10, 2012

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s  Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2012 Formula Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Os

This year I decided that my grand trip would be to head to Malaysia to watch the 2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix.  After going to the Singapore Grand Prix in 2011, I talked about what our next trip would be with my girlfriend.  We decided that it would be cheaper overall and probably more enjoyable to head to Malaysia to watch the F1 Grand Prix than to go to the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.  In Singapore, we had a great time and I enjoyed seeing and doing many things.  I had no expectations whatsoever in Malaysia and after doing some researching, I found a cheap flight and ordered tickets online to the F1 Grand Prix.  I wasn’t expecting too much from what I had seen but I did expect a typical F1 experience.  Unfortunately, whether it was due to the promoters or Malaysia itself, I was let down in many ways.

The atmosphere of the Malaysian Grand Prix was similar in many respects to the other Grand Prix I had visited.  The need for a party like atmosphere with many familiar overtones was dominant.  First, there were the typical shops where you could enjoy buying various F1 merchandise at F1 prices.  It is safe to say that almost every F1 race has the exact same shops when it comes to merchandise.  You will find shops that sell all of the various team clothing and accessories but you will be hard pressed to find a lot of it at the Malaysian Grand Prix.  I found that the Singapore GP was a little better overall in terms of what I could buy.  It could be because the F1 season is just starting when the Malaysian GP is being held so many of the teams don’t have enough merchandise on offer, but that is just speculation on my part.  Then there is the food.  You can’t go to any F1 event without noticing the types of food that are on offer or trying it when you are there all day.  In Japan, there are a lot of standard foods that I eat at the race all the time and they are usually delicious.  At the Malaysian GP, I found the food to be sub-par for what I would like to eat.  While there are a lot of good things to eat, there was too much bad western food and the Malaysian food that was available was just average.  I didn’t mind it too the food in Malaysia too much but after eating at the Japan GP or even the Singapore GP, I was a bit disappointed with my experience here.  Maybe in the future the circuit organizers can improve their food offerings as other areas of Kuala Lumpur had very good things to eat.

In terms of facilities, the Sepang International Circuit is a nice place.  The circuit is very interesting with a lot of good racing.  They have several sections and going to the GP is relatively cheap.  You don’t need to buy a ticket to just go to the races and enjoy the atmosphere.  The only time you need to show your ticket is when you head into the grandstands, but even then it doesn’t matter too much.  The layout is a little strange as they have a large parking lot that serves as the drop off and pick up point for the various buses.  You then walk up or take a shuttle up a hill that leads to the main entrance.  The main mall is basically a public area that has a welcome centre and shopping leading to the main grandstands.  It is a nice setup that allows people who haven’t paid for tickets to still experience a bit of the GP itself, but I was amazed that they didn’t have a few basic merchandise items that were exclusive to ticket holders.  Once you are in the grandstands, you get to figure out where you are sitting, which is not very easy depending on which area you are in.  The signage was very poor for a world class circuit but that is very easy to improve if they invest a little money.  The main flaw to the design layout was the fact that the grandstands were sectioned off by security.  I had to cross security to get to my seats and to buy food, but if I wanted to go back and get a shirt or a program, I had to leave the security area.  While they did provide UV stamps so we could re-enter, it was very troublesome to get through security, and with the heat and humidity, I was worried my stamp would “melt” away from my sweat.  I do wish they had a few shops in the grandstand area, but there wasn’t a lot of space either.  While the layout of the plaza area wasn’t ideal, the seats were great.  I had a great view of the entire back half of the track from the back main grandstand.  The front and back straights were covered by a canvas roof, but the roof had two big flaws.  The first was that the roof wasn’t UV protected.  I continued to tan a bit in the sun even though I was in the shade.  It was unexpected but for a 13 year old circuit, I can’t complain too much.  The main problem was the rain.  While I was under the roof, the roof leaked a lot.  Whether it was the seam or the steel girder holding up the roof, during the rain it just dripped water all over me.  There were two or three seats that were really bad and I had the unfortunate luck to be in one of them.  Thankfully Petronas handed out free ponchos to whoever could get their hands on one and I had a small cover for the rain.

The race itself was pretty interesting.  There were 4 races that I knew of for that day.  The first was an amateur race that lasted just a few laps.  It was fun to watch but not the best race in the world.  Next was a Malaysian racing series, I think, with various GT cars.  It was a better race but half of it was run under a safety car due to a tremendous crash at the start of the race.  After the restart, it was somewhat procedural.  The last support race was a GP2 race.  It is the feeder series into F1 itself with many drivers in GP2 graduating into F1.  It is a bit of an up and down series with many drivers deciding to go up and then after failing to survive in F1 they return to GP2.  For the older drivers in F1, they tend to change series completely with little to no chance of returning to F1.  This is an unfortunately problem in F1 today with a lot of teams requiring drivers to bring sponsorship money into the team before they can be considered a member of the team.  It is an unfortunate problem of a world where the economy is still lagging and many car companies don’t have enough money to support their own teams.

The main event was, of course, the F1 Grand Prix itself.  The entire weekend was a build up to a race that started at 4pm on Sunday March 25th.  The hour before the race was a scorcher.  Over 30C and high humidity meant that I was sitting and sweating at the same time.  I kept as cool as I could and just relaxed for most of the day under the shade of the back grandstand.  As the race was about to get underway, a huge thundershower was rolling in.  It seemed okay at first and a little hard to see for me in my seat but some parts of the circuit had rain and others didn’t.  As the race got underway, people were cheering and watching intently.  After a handful of laps, and some frantic pit stops to change tires, the race was suddenly stopped due to the amount of rain flooding the track.  Malaysia is a country that expects rain and has good drainage but when there is a thundershower, all bets are off.  There was too much standing water so the race was red flagged and delayed almost an hour.  However, when the racing got back underway, it was very intense.  The rain was still falling when they restarted but it was lightening up.  It then stopped and allowed the track to completely dry by the end.  There were a few accidents on track but nothing that would completely stop the racing.  There was a big battle between the Sauber of Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.  A typical David and Goliath battle where most of the people were cheering for Perez to slay Alonso and win the race.  Unfortunately, due to a small mistake at the end of the race and the team and driver agreeing to hold second place, Perez failed to win the grand prix.  It was sad but understandable for such a small team to value the safety of a guaranteed podium over the chance of a win.

Overall I would say the race was a lot of fun.  It met all of my expectations but unfortunately it didn’t exceed them.  My expectations were set a little low but I was expecting it to be a tough challenge to rival Singapore in terms of fun.  The circuit itself is not difficult to access and there are a lot of positives about going to a grand prix in a foreign country.  I don’t regret going to the Malaysian Grand Prix.  All of the problems I had with this race were pretty small.  While the problems were small, they all added up and they need to be improved before I consider going back for either F1 or MotoGP in the future but if they do fix enough of the small things in the next few years, I will be back for the races.  Otherwise, I’ll have to find another excuse to go to Kuala Lumpur.

2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix is part of a series of posts detailing my experiences of visiting various F1 races around the world.  To read more about the various races I have attended, please follow the links below:

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Gotemba April 3, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Gotemba” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-gotemba

Gotemba is a small city located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  It is surrounded by the towns of Susono and Oyama but most people will consider that entire area to be Gotemba for simplicity.  Gotemba itself is located on the south-east corner of Mt. Fuji on the east side of Shizuoka and at the border of Kanagawa.  It is literally at the border between the Kanto and Chubu regions of Japan.  While Shizuoka is technically within the Chubu region, most consider everything to the east of Mt. Fuji to be part of Kanto and due to the geography, Gotemba falls on the east side of Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba itself has only one major attraction aside from Mt. Fuji, and that’s a large outlet shopping mall.  In the surrounding areas, to the north of Gotemba is the town of Oyama which is famous for Fuji Speedway.  Both of these are the only famous destinations for any travellers to the region, although there are a lot of natural places to visit.

The most famous and obvious attraction in Gotemba has to be Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba is the location for the entrance to the Gotemba hiking trail.  This is probably only for the real adventurists as it is considered the most difficult way to hike up Mt. Fuji as it is the longest trail.  Due to the proximity of Gotemba to Mt. Fuji, you can usually see Mt. Fuji on most clear days.  Mt. Fuji is a very fickle mountain.  I have heard many people complain about the problems of heading out to the foot of Mt. Fuji only to be greeted by clouds instead of the majestic mountain.  Due to its isolation from other mountain ranges and its height Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds.  In order to see Mt. Fuji, you need to go there on a perfectly clear day.  If there are any clouds in the sky, it is highly likely that they will slam into Mt. Fuji and hang out for a while leading to a huge disappointment.  Gotemba is one of the few places you can visit and not feel too bad if Mt. Fuji is obscured.  Most people visit Hakone, and I actually recommend visiting Hakone over Gotemba, but it can be harder to see Mt. Fuji as Hakone is located in the nearby mountains which can make seeing Mt. Fuji a little harder.  Kawaguchiko is the other famous place to see Mt. Fuji but aside from FujiQ Highlands, an amusement park, there is nothing to do there.  Gotemba can be better but only if you enjoy shopping.

Currently, Gotemba is well known for its shopping opportunities.  If you tell anyone in Tokyo that you are going to visit Gotemba, almost everyone will ask if you will be going there to go shopping.  The outlet mall in Gotemba is called Premium Outlets and it is an American brand of outlet malls run by the Simon Property Group.  In Japan, they set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Estate who operates the Premium Outlet Mall chain in Japan.  The Gotemba branch is the flagship mall in Japan and well known among people in Tokyo.  It is a destination for people with long lines to get into the mall on weekends and holidays.  The easiest way into the mall is to purchase a ticket on one of the special direct buses.  These buses run from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station.  They leave in the morning and return by dinner.  All you have to do is show up at the station, board the bus and then board the same bus to return back to Tokyo.  Tickets for the weekend do sell out quickly so it is best to reserve seats ahead of time.  For those who can’t get tickets, you can still easily take a regular highway bus.  A highway bus is a long distance bus that uses highways to get from A to B, but on the way to Gotemba there are several bus stops on the Expressway itself.  There is also a train service but the best option for this is via Shinjuku but it is more expensive than the bus.  For most people, shopping at Gotemba will not be very different to shopping at any other outlet shop in the world.  Most of the shops are the same as in America, but there are several Japanese brands that you can’t find elsewhere.  Depending on your own fashion sense, you may or may not enjoy shopping in Gotemba but if you enjoy shopping anyways, you can always spend a day visiting Gotemba and attempting to see Mt. Fuji up close at the same time.

To the north of Gotemba is Oyama, the home of Fuji Speedway.  Fuji Speedway is the most famous race course in the Kanto region.  It was host to the F1 Japan Grand Prix in the past and considered the most beautiful race course in Japan.  This is mostly due to the fact that you can easily see Mt. Fuji from the track.  Today, the track is used mostly for local racing championships and Toyota sponsored events.  The track itself has undergone several changes over the decades.  Due to financial difficulties by its owner, Toyota, the track was discontinued as an F1 circuit but continues to be used for national races and local events.  Unfortunately, it appears that the racing course will not be used as an F1 circuit in the foreseeable future.  It is a bit of a shame but when compared to Suzuka’s greater history, Fuji Speedway will probably continue to suffer from the lack of attention.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Gotemba is not a place most people will ever visit, nor will they really want to.  It is a beautiful place to go but compared to the more popular areas such as Hakone, Gotemba will be overlooked a lot.  For nature, people will visit Hakone.  For Mt. Fuji hikes, people will go to Kawaguchiko.  For shopping, most tourists will stay in Tokyo or visit one of the outlet malls that are easier to visit such as the Mitsui chain in Makuhari.  For locals and people living in Tokyo, Gotemba will be a place to visit once in a while.  If you can justify a visit to the region, I recommend doing so, but unfortunately, I doubt most will want to spend the time to go there.

Note:  Unfortunately I have no photos of Gotemba Premium Outlets.  I almost never go there to take pictures, only to do shopping.  🙂

Tokyo Sky Tree March 27, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo Sky Tree” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nv

Tokyo Sky Tree is the newest landmark in Tokyo.  It is a culmination of planning and building that spanned over 5 years.  Tokyo Sky Tree was officially unveiled to the public when the designs were published at the end of 2006.  Tokyo Sky Tree is currently the tallest tower in the world and second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa.  Sky Tree was built because of the rapid growth of skyscrapers in Tokyo.  In the past, Tokyo Tower, which stands at 333m, was the tallest structure in Japan.  With an ever changing landscape and advances in technology, Tokyo Tower was quickly becoming a regular structure rather than the tall tower that was needed.  Tokyo Tower is a fully functioning TV Tower that broadcasts terrestrial television and radio programs across Tokyo.  With the large towers in Roppongi creating greater problems for Tokyo Tower, the need for a new taller structure was conceived and Tokyo Sky Tree was built.

In 2008, the ground-breaking ceremony for Tokyo Sky Tree was held and the pace of construction has been furious.  Like many buildings, the foundation is the hardest part of any construction.  It took almost one complete year before the foundations were finished and the main structure could begin to be built.  From that point it was very noticeable that Sky Tree was growing daily.  It took two full years to reach a height of 600m and aside from a few moments where the tower seemed to stop growing for a month or so, it was very easy to see progress being made to the external structure of the tower.  Tokyo Sky Tree is topped by a large antenna that stands 36m tall.  The 36m tall antenna was built inside the base of the tower and jacked up to its final position.  It was about 10m from its final resting height when the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck.  Thankfully the main structure held up and the tower structure was completed soon after checks were made along the entire tower.

There is a lot of symbolism and technology within Tokyo Sky Tree.  The first aspect of Tokyo Sky Tree is the shape.  While most pictures will show a circular structure, it is far more complex than that.  The design was created to start as a triangular base as it slowly transforms into a circular design by the time it reaches the observation decks.  The triangular base was designed to minimize the effect of shadows on the surrounding area.  Whether this is true or not is unknown by myself as I don’t have the means to test it out.  The next piece of technology is the use of old technology.  It is often promoted by the designers that Tokyo Sky Tree was built using old ideas with modern technology.  Utilizing the ancient designs of pagoda in Japan, they created a centre column with the structure hanging from it at the top.  This allows the centre column to “float” independently from the outer structure and help protect it from catastrophic failure in the event of an earthquake.  Of course this is using modern upgrades to the design and modern technology and materials.  The final symbolism in the structure is the height.  Tokyo Sky Tree stands at 634m tall.  634 can also be read as “mu(tsu) (6), san (3), shi (4)” or “musashi”.  Musashi is the old name of the region.  Musashi Province was an area that encompassed Tokyo, Saitama, and part of Kanagawa.  It can easily be thought of as the entire region that also includes Chiba.

The official mascot of Tokyo Sky Tree is Sorakara-chan.  Sorakara-chan can be loosely translated as the girl from the sky.  The simple backstory of Sorakara-chan is that she found Tokyo because Tokyo Sky Tree was able to cut above the clouds and shine very brightly.  You can already find her items and souvenirs at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree before the tower has even been opened to the public.  It is a typical marketing ploy by the operators of Tokyo Sky Tree and she will definitely make money for them.  Tokyo Sky Tree is not just a TV tower.  It is also a full scale shopping complex.  The main floors are occupied by Tokyo Solamachi.  Tokyo Solamachi is the name of the shopping complex that occupies the main building at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree that stands a mere 7 stories tall.  Tokyo Solamachi isn’t very special as it consists mainly of a typical shopping mall but they have added a dome theatre and aquarium to the top floors.  It will be the focal point for the entire neighbourhood and create a bit of competition for neighbouring Asakusa and Kinshicho.  It is unlikely that the new area, coined “Sky Tree Town” by the developer will take off immediately.  It will take time to build up but it will be very popular once it opens in May.

While Tokyo Sky Tree itself is complete, the entire structure and Solamachi won’t be open to the public until May 22nd, assuming there are no last second delays.  It will be a very popular destination at first and there are sure to be lines to go to the observation deck and lines to get into the shopping complex for the first year or so.  Whether or not it will give people enough reason to keep visiting is anyone’s guess.  It is likely that the complex will do well into the future.  It has the potential to draw a lot of people to the tower as it is located just a stone throw’s away from Asakusa.

This is the first in a series of posts about Tokyo Sky Tree.  To read more, please head over to Tokyo Sky Tree (Opening Day)

Tokyo – Akihabara (Redux) March 20, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Akihabara (Redux)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Na

I have previously written about Akihabara and focused a lot on what is available in the area.  2 years ago, I moved to Kinshicho which is just a few stations away from Akihabara.  I have had a chance to learn more and more about Akihabara as well as understand the area in a different light.  In the past 2 years since my original post about Akihabara many things have changed, yet many things have remained the same.  It is still a mecca for geeks and electronics lovers everywhere and it continues to evolve with time.

Akihabara will always be a mecca for geeks, even though the current mayor of the district is trying to push them out.  There are several new large buildings that focus more on businesses, but a lot of the side streets are still filled with great little shops to “get your geek on”.  A lot of the really old shops that added character to Akihabara have closed down and new larger versions have recently popped up.  While the character of Akihabara is modernizing, it is modernizing in a good way for tourists now.  A lot of the new buildings are occupied by various larger model and anime shops.  The older buildings were a bit of a hazard due to their age and lack of upkeep which created a dingy look.  While the gentrification of Akihabara is continuing, in my opinion, the original culture is trying to fight on.  While many of the porn shops and shady cafes are gone, many of the original electronics and shops are consolidating into larger outlets.  Some of the large buildings with dozens of micro shops are rebuilding in smaller and taller buildings.  The variety of stores appears to be improving a bit and tourist friendly big box retailers are moving in slowly.  Like the stories in many manga or anime, the geeks may have been knocked down but they still try to maintain their own culture within Akihabara.

Akihabara is quickly becoming known for AKB48.  AKB48 is a huge all girl pop idol group that was born in 2005.  The founder of AKB48 wanted to create “an idol you can meet” situation when he created AKB48.  AKB48 stands for AKihaBara 48.  Originally, he envisioned 48 girls in the group.  At times, there were less than 48 but due to the popularity of the group it now stands at over 50.  The group has become so popular that they spawned sister groups across Japan as well as one group in Indonesia and another one being developed in Taiwan.  AKB48 is also one of the most recognized and top selling groups in Japan.  The group started off very humbly and in the past 3 years have exploded beyond their imaginations.  They are seen on TV at almost all hours of the day.  The most popular girls are on primetime TV while the B and C list tend to dominate late night TV with cutesy programs.  They tend to promote the fact that they are young, and at ages ranging from 13 to 29, they play the part very well.  In the beginning, many thought of the group as a type of soft kiddie porn due to the way they dance and dress.  Today, they are now part of Japanese pop culture and integral in how Japan is viewed from outside.  It is unlikely that they will go away soon and they will continue to expand.  From what started out as a single theatre has now grown to include a new venue where you can eat at their cafe, see their museum, buy fan items, and watch past concerts in a new small theatre.

Themes are a new trend in Akihabara.  A Gundam Cafe had opened since my last post about Akihabara.  It is a very popular cafe where fanatics of Gundam can enjoy a Gundam themed coffee.  In fact, all of the food and drinks come with a Gundam theme.  The cutlery, dishes, and even tables have Gundam themes.  When entering the washroom, you will be greeted by the most famous Gundam of all.  You don’t have to wait in line to enjoy the food as you can purchase some items at the store.  The store itself is pretty small with only a few, yet exclusive, items for sale.  While the Gundam Cafe itself is pretty popular, there are other theme attractions in Akihabara.  I mentioned that maid cafes are popular, and they continue to be so.  Maid cafes come in all shapes and sizes with various costumes.  If you aren’t happy with the French maid, or the Japanese style maid, you can always go to one where the girls dress in other costumes.  They are harder to find and just as expensive as a normal maid cafe but they tend to be very popular.

An often overlooked area of Akihabara, even by me, is the Kanda Myojin.  It is a very important shrine in Tokyo.  It is one of the 10 most important shrines in Tokyo.  They were selected by a past emperor of Japan and it is considered a small pilgrimage to visit all 10.  Kanda Myojin is one of the ten but it is a little off the beaten path.  It is located roughly an equal distance from Akihabara Station and Ochanomizu Station.  It is a little easier to reach from Akihabara but you must pass through a small residential and business district.  Most of Akihabara is centred on Chuo-dori and Kanda Myojin is about 5 minutes from Chuo-dori.  It is also easy to be lost on the way to Kanda Myojin but once you are there, you are rewarded with one of the nicer gems of the city.  Kanda Myojin is actually more well-known among locals as being a popular place for weddings.  It is a little expensive but compared to Meiji Jingu, nowhere near as expensive.  There are a few various sculptures in the area and it is worth a visit if you are living in Tokyo, but in reality, if you are pressed for time, don’t bother with it.  Just enjoy yourself in Akihabara and think about doing a pilgrimage in the future.

Akihabara continues to evolve with the atmosphere has changed only a little in the past 2 years.  It will take a lot more time to know whether or not the area will completely lose the atmosphere that once inhabited the area.  It is not the same as before but it isn’t completely different either.  You can still find almost everything you can imagine and the area is upgrading the buildings slowly.  The old run down stores that looked like they would crumble in a serious earthquake are, for the most part, gone.  They have been replaced by several new buildings that have been repopulated by shops that are similar to the original shops in the area.  It definitely feels cleaner but at the same time, some of the character of the old dingy shops is gone.  In fact, some of the small shops have probably closed for good due to the economy and the changes in Akihabara.  I doubt all of them will go away but I feel that things can never return to the technological and otaku heave it once was.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Civilized and Akihabara – For the Eccentric.

Tokyo – Daimon March 13, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Daimon” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Mz

Daimon is an area that is fairly unknown to a majority of tourists in Tokyo.  It is better known as Hamamatsucho or even Shiba.  Being Tokyo, many neighbourhoods are so close to each other that it can be difficult to distinguish between the different areas.  This is one such area.  Stretching from the east side of Hamamatsucho Station all the way to Tokyo Tower, the Daimon area is not the most entertaining areas but one of the secret gems of Tokyo.  For those with little time, there is no real reason to visit, to be completely honest, but if you have the time, you will be rewarded with beauty and tranquility that is not found outside of the area.

Daimon itself is a very bland area.  It is a modern symbol of how most of Japan’s cities look.  It has the appearance of being a small city in Japan with rows of boring rectangular buildings.  In all directions you look, you will find it difficult to tell where you are unless you can see Tokyo Tower.  Adding to the blandness is the fact that the area around Hamamatsucho is very busy transfer point as it is the end station of the Tokyo Monorail which runs to Haneda Airport.  The east side of Hamamatsucho is the home of the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens but unfortunately I haven’t visited that area yet but I hope to do so in the near future.  The garden is considered the most beautiful in Tokyo and must be worth a visit.  I often just head straight from Hamamatsucho Station to Zojoji which is just a few minutes on foot.

Zojoji is a very beautiful Buddhist temple located near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It is a large complex that houses one of the most tranquil temples in Tokyo.  I have visited many temples and shrines but Zojoji is one of the few inviting temples that encourage people to go inside and pray.  In some temples and shrines, the prayer area can feel a bit strange as the doors may be closed, or the setting can feel a little less inviting.  It is worth the time to just sit down and soak up the atmosphere inside the temple itself.  It is a very quiet atmosphere where you can only hear the various prayers people make as they throw their money into the collection boxes.  As I mentioned in a previous post about the best temples and shrines in Tokyo, Zojoji is one of the most picturesque.  With Tokyo Tower in the background, you can really get a good sense of history and modernity.  The surrounding grounds are also interesting with a small hall adjacent to the main one.  Behind the small hall is a mausoleum for some of the members of the Tokugawa shogunate, one of the first shogun clans to rule Japan.  They are revered in Tokyo and I would say one of the most, if not the most important clan in Japanese history.  Unfortunately you do have to pay a small fee to enter the mausoleum grounds itself.

To the south of Zojoji is Shiba Park.  It is not a very popular park and very often overlooked by most people.  Most tourists will cut through Zojoji to head directly to Tokyo Tower.  I prefer a small stop in Shiba Park as it is somewhat of a unique park in Tokyo.  The entrance makes the park look like a very small park.  It is an open field with trees in the back.  What is hidden is a large mound with stairs heading up the mound at the back of the open field.  Few people, aside from the locals visit this area.  It is a wonderfully quiet area with mostly local tourists exploring the area.  There are a few monuments in the area but for those longing for some nature, specifically a forest like feeling, this area is perfect.  With trees blanketing the entire hill, you will be hard pressed to find a lot of natural sunlight as the trees filter out most of the sunlight.  There are a lot of interesting corners of the park that can be explored.  It won’t take a long time to explore the entire park but it is worth it if you have the time.

Flanking Zojoji are two hotels.  The Prince Park Tower is located to the south of Zojoji on the west side of Shiba Park.  It is a tall modern tower that is a nice hotel to stay in, albeit somewhat less convenient than many other hotels.  There is a small open field located next to the hotel that is a nice way to cut through to Tokyo Tower rather than going through the main route next to Zojoji.  On the north side of Zojoji is the Tokyo Prince Hotel.  This is one of the most written about hotels in Tokyo.  Various novels that are set in Tokyo often use the Tokyo Prince Hotel as one of their locations.  While it is often referred to in various novels, it is also well known for its swimming pool.  In the summer, the pool is open to the public for a fee and it is one of the most popular swimming pools in the city.  This is mainly due to the good views of Tokyo Tower next to the hotel itself.  Unfortunately, for a regular tourist, this is probably not an important place to visit and the building itself is architecturally boring.  The area itself is more important than the hotel but for the curious, there is no harm visiting the hotel itself.

Aside from Zojoji and being a way to access Tokyo Tower, Daimon is not really an important place for tourists to visit.  I feel that it is a very nice hidden gem in the city and worth a visit for Zojoji alone.  It doesn’t take a long time and you can easily visit Tokyo Tower at the same time.  Combining it with an afternoon trip to Roppongi can help as well, and Tokyo Tower is pretty well connected to other areas of Tokyo via the Tokyo Metro System.  It can be difficult to choose but if time is on your side, make plans to visit the Daimon area.

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